Monthly Archives: September 2008

‘Media shapes, sexes up, manipulates, distorts’

Is the media playing with the tiger’s tail? Or is the tiger cub riding the media? In other words, just how much is the media responsible for the Raj Thackeray bogey?

Is the “demonisation” of Thackeray junior entirely the handiwork of sensation-seeking journalists trying to fill up the airwaves in the era of 24×7 news? Is the Maharashtra Navanirman Samithi (MNS) campaign against migrant workers, taxi drivers, and the Bachchan family, “a demon created by the media”?

Yes, say two people who should know.

Exhibit A: K.L. Prasad.

The joint commissioner of police (law and order), Bombay, blames the issue on profusion of reportage. In fact, he says there was “no issue at all.”

“I have a complaint against the media. You people make heroes out of zeroes. I would say, just neglect him [Raj Thackeray]. He will get asphyxia. Channels are constantly repeating the footage. One incident is shown 74 times. This is clearly [a way of] reinforcing it in the mind.”

Exhibit B: Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Longtime Bombay bureau chief of The Hindu, he writes that the media has on three separate occasions missed the woods for the trees and distorted Raj Thackeray’s statements.

Irving Wallace was bang on target in his 1982 novel The Almighty in which the power-hungry media-owner Edward Armstead‘s obsession was to shape the news and then manipulate and control it with disastrous consequences to the world.

“The Indian media’s obsession to shape—or sex up?—a story to its worst distortion has come to the fore. And without anyone even batting an eyelid in concern.

“What further mischief lies ahead? Can we trust the mass media? The reader believes the printed word and sees television, despite its limited depth—or actually, the absolute lack of it—as real because he sees live images….

“The media has lost its head and plunged the region into trouble, jeopardising lives and property by its irresponsibility.”

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/The Indian Express

Read the full story: How the media created the Raj Thackeray bogey

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Bolo ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. Bolo ‘It’s a work of art’

Not that they are sensitive to these things, but the highest court in India has delivered a stinging slap on the menacing faces of the moral police and thought thugs; the connoisseurs who know exactly what we should see, hear, wear, watch, read, write, paint, feel and think.

Or else.

Maqbool Fida Husain‘s Bharat Mata—a 2004 oil-on-canvas painting of a nude woman whose shape mimics the contours of the map of India, with the names of Indian cities written over her body—has been decreed “a work of art” by the Supreme Court of India.

Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, while refusing to initiate criminal proceedings against Husain for allegedly “hurting public sentiments” and the “national pride of Indians”, said:

“There are so many such subjects, photographs and publications. Does the sentiment of the petitioner get scandalized by the large number of photographs of erotic sculptures which are in circulation? Will you file cases against all of them?

“What about temple structures?

“It (Husain’s work) is art. If you don’t want to see it, don’t see it. There are so many such art forms in temple structures.”

Also read: M.F. HUSAIN: Do you throw out a naughty child?

RITU MENON: In the name of Bhagwan, Allah, God…

Desh ke police kaise ho? Moral police jaise ho!

Just how is this dress an affront to Hindu culture?

India’s greatest poet since the Bhakti movement?

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: As Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw showed, if you have to die, you must die somewhere in the vicinity of Delhi, so that the movers, shakers and brokers of the capital can easily assemble to “bid a tearful farewell”.

If you write a book, you must write do so somewhere between south and central Delhi, as Presidents (Abdul Kalam), former Union ministers (Lal Krishna Advani or Jaswant Singh), South Block mandarins (Pavan K. Varma, Vikas Swarup, Navtej Sarna and Nirupama Rao) have shown.

For, if you do, Jnanpith Award winning authors, Bollywood actors and lyricists will crawl out of the woodwork to read and recite your magnum opus. And the media, otherwise snapping like mad dogs at your feet, will gratefully roll over and allow itself to be given a nice little rub on its bloated underbelly.

Take the case of Kapil Sibal‘s ‘I Witness: Partial Observations‘ published by IndiaInk (Roli Books).

It’s a collection of 84 “poems”, mostly composed by the Union science and technology minister’s own admission “on the cellphone during long flights”. What you and I call SMS.

But looking at the red-carpet treatment the putative poet’s book has received from our supposedly “cynical media”, it would seem the greatest poems since the Bhakti movement have been penned on a Blackberry in the business class of British Airways before the babes brought in the booze.

# On NDTV 24×7, Sonia Singh assembles a half-hour show on the politician as poet.

# On CNBC-TV18, Karan Thapar, who otherwise eats politicians for dinner, actually looks lovingly into the eyes of the new prodigy on the block.

# In Outlook, there is a two-page profile of the “nano poet”, with the breathtaking line, “Bio-tech: scientific surgeon’s knife/ genetic investigator’s dream”.

# On NDTV 24×7, Shekhar Gupta does a full Walk the Talk with the “peripatetic poet”, and follows it up with a full-page of excerpts in The Indian Express.

On top of the specials, there is the routine too.

In Bangalore, The Times of India gleefully records the presence of actor Waheeda Rehman and Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw at the release.

In Delhi, The Hindustan Times grimly documents Sibal’s self-proclaimed “natural affinity for rhymes”.

Sure, the media’s duty is to shine the light on fresh new talent. Sure, as Sibal said in Bangalore: “We (politicians) too are sensitive. We too have feelings like any other ordinary mortals.” And sure, there is an element of surprise, if not an undercurrent of fun.

But where is the balance?

Do gems such as these qualify as poetry:

# A constitutional/guarantee?/No panacea/for inequality

# I never have understood/why so many of us/have to die

# TRPs of channels,/soap operas,/get hits for you./News that matters/serious content,/of limited value

# The Left has suffered for a lifetime now, of an ailment they can’t diagnose The symptom however that troubles them most is that they can’t see beyond their nose

Is this a book of poems, or the first book of SMSes?

Vijay Nambisan, a published poet, writes in The Hindu:

“Kapil Sibal is entirely justified in referring to these pieces as ‘partial observations’. But neither he, nor Shashi Tharoor on the back cover, nor even the more fulsome front inside-flap copy-writer, is justified in calling them poems.”

Maybe, if the media went about being so serious, it would be a very boring media. Maybe, there is a some laughs to be had out of all this just as we laugh at Lalu Prasad‘s chalisa. Maybe, this is just desserts for charming Mr Sibal, a fine lawyer with a fine sense of humour.

Maybe, it’s a publicity coup for his publishers. Maybe, it’s a small price to pay for editors and publishers who want to be on the right of Sibal. Just good PR, nothing lost in humouring a Union minister.

But…

But would a fresh young poet in Delhi, especially one aged 60, get such play in our media? Would a fresh young poet in some other part of the country, get such play? Would an out-of-power politician get such play? Would an out-of-power, non-Delhi, non-English poet get it?

Above all, is this stuff even halfway good?

Or just page 3 pap?

As Indrajit Hazra wrote in a piece accompanying a “review” in the Hindustan Times:

From the shores of a droll ministry
comes outpourings from a head.
Now, if it wasn’t Kapil Sibal
we would have left them unread….

Sudha Murthy, the wife of the Infosys chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, recently complained to a wellknown short story writer that the media wasn’t taking enough note of her literary output.

“I have been writing short stories for 50 years and nobody is taking note of me. And here is a rich but bored housewife who is writing short stories as a hobby demanding it as a matter of right,” the short story writer told her son out of exasperation.

India’s celebrities, it now appears, are secretly hoping that their every fetish and fancy be recorded for posterity. Funnily, it seems, a celebrity-driven media is unquestioningly falling for it.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News (digitally altered)

Also read: How many poems can fetch a poet Rs 8.5 crore?

A box of poems is mightier than a sten-gun

Da Ra Bendre on why nitrogen is nonsense

Behind the magazine mailed from the future

Kevin Kelly on how the iconic tech magazine Wired was conceptualised:

“We thought of it as a magazine that appeared as if it had been mailed from the future…. We created a magazine we wanted to read.”

Co-founder and former publisher Louis Rossetto

“We weren’t prisoners of objectivity. Our mission was to deliver reality…. We did get right that the internet would provide an alternative connection to reality that had previously been the monopoly of the media. The Russian revolution is a school yard game compared to the change that’s been driven by the digital revolution.”

Also read: The History of Wired

Link via Boing Boing

‘Journalism is still the world’s best profession’

Columbian author and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a conversation with students and journalists in Monterey, Mexico. 

“We enjoy it when we find a jewel (of a story), but suffer like dogs when we see language used badly… but it is still the best profession.”

Photograph: courtesy AFP

Any number will do when the game is of numbers

How does an English newspaper—a new entrant in a colourful, chaotic, “conservative”, cinema-mad, cutout-filled City—connect to the masses?

If you are The Hindu, you establish synergies with the prim and proper Madras Music Academy, and collaborate with some of its classical katcheris to the soft rustle of Kanjeevarams.

If you are The Times of India, you take a peppy ‘gaanasong born in the slums (Naka Mukka) from composer Vijay Anthony, from an upcoming Tamil movie (Kadhalil Vizhunthen, starring Nakul of Boys fame), tie it into your campaign, and even sponsor “The Making of Naka Mukka” on Sun TV on Ganesh Chathurthi.

Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu